A scream shrieked from a high corner of the coliseum and, like a wave, it echoed and swelled, gathering other joyful, hysterical voices along with it. There was no music yet, though dim red lights covered the crowd, but someone thought they just saw the band near the stage. Brays of excitement continued and time seemed suspended in the pause before the house lights dimmed.
The screams bellowed and died, tension pulsing through the sold-out arena like thunder moments before a storm; building and building, until the lights shot out and darkness covered everything. Screams pierced the silence with greater force — even event staff guarding exits and stairways joined in the excitement. The lights came on, the curtain covering the stage pulled away, and the masked duo stood in an aureole of flashing lights before the crowd.
Clothed in their popular red suits and black ski masks, frontman Joseph Tyler flowed into a tight verse from a mic suspended above him and wild beats by drummer Josh Dun caromed across the crowd for the opening song “Heavy Dirty Soul.” And while there have been plenty flavor-of-the-month acts and pop groups who’ve taken audiences by storm in recent years, there’s something different about Twenty One Pilots.
Proudly making records that break genre and land in no single style of music, Twenty One Pilots put on a live performance that could easily be one of the best live shows of this decade. But this isn’t Britney Spears or NSYNC or any other manufactured group who are selling out arenas across the globe. The duo is a rock band at the core, starting from touring empty bars in the Midwest and hustling for nearly 10 years to win a Grammy this past year; a fan base that spans a wide range from 12 and 13-year-old kids to adults. And when they step on to the stage, their presence demands attention.
Opening acts for the concert were Nashville folk, alternative band Judah the Lion and Jon Bellion, a rapper from Long Island whose latest single “All Time Low” is currently in the Top 10 of the US pop charts. The audience applauded and were elated by the opening acts, though their performances paled to that of the main event.
The show at the Greensboro Coliseum on Feb. 25 sold out weeks before. This is the trend with nearly every show on their 2017 Emotional Roadshow world tour consisting of 118 shows, spanning the Americas, Europe and Oceania. Dozens of ecstatic fans camped out in front of the coliseum for two days before the concert, coming together and playing the band’s records on cellphones in preparation. And while thousands of fans took videos and pictures, It was a comforting sight to see all attention placed on the music without distraction when the music began. With such fame and success, kindness and values don’t seem to be of necessity. But Tyler and Dun have broken away from the popular course of the flashy celebrity.
With lyrics such as, “We used to play pretend, give each other different names/ We would build a rocket ship and then we’d fly it far away/ Used to dream of outer space but now they’re laughing at our face/ Saying, ‘Wake up, you need to make money,’” or “Gangsters don’t cry/ Therefore, therefore I’m, Mr. Misty-eyed,” Twenty One Pilots tears down the materialistic architecture of our modern age. Through their music they promote a sort of kindness and realistic grounding in life, one where brand-names and pre-conceived notions of society have no place. They remind their young fans that it’s all right to be different and to have dreams; that there’s no need to follow the carved-out path of society, but instead, to be who you are, to be generous and kind.
In a tumultuous and shifting state of culture and society, where the lines between good and evil seem to becoming blurred, it’s a refreshing thought that music and art can uplift and join people together in such a way. The men beneath the masks are on the forefront of a new wave of music and popular artistry. From Greensboro, the tour carries on through the United States. before departing for Europe, but not without sending Triad fans home smiling and changed by the band’s live performance.